Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

The former police chief of the school police force in Uvalde, Tex., has been indicted in connection with the botched response to the 2022 shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead at Robb Elementary.

Uvalde County jail officials confirmed that Pedro “Pete” Arredondo was booked at the facility on 10 felony counts of abandoning or endangering a child shortly before 5 p.m. local time on Thursday. Arredondo’s bond was set at $100,000, or $10,000 per charge. He posted bail shortly after being booked.

Local media reported a former officer, Adrian Gonzales, was also indicted. The charges were first reported by the San Antonio Express-News. District Attorney Christina Mitchell did not return requests for comment.

The officers are the first to face criminal charges in a shooting that sparked outrage over both the violence of the 18-year-old gunman and law enforcement’s lengthy delay in entering the classroom and killing him. Texas leaders initially praised the law enforcement response but later acknowledged officers had waited 77 minutes to confront the gunman.

Legal experts said the charges appear to mark an unprecedented application of the child-endangerment statute and noted that the 10 counts are probably in reference to the 10 children who survived the deadly attack that day by pretending to be dead or hiding among the dead.

In January, the U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing 575-page report that criticized local police commanders and state law enforcement for not immediately entering the classroom and killing the gunman. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that “lives would have been saved” if officers had responded quickly.

Police officers arrived at the school but quickly retreated in the face of gunfire, deciding to treat a gunman as a barricaded suspect and wait for backup. During that time, officers spent about 40 minutes searching for a key to a classroom space that, the federal reviewers concluded, was probably unlocked the entire time.

From early on, much of the blame centered on Arredondo, who at the time led the Uvalde school system police force. The former chief repeatedly told officers who were trying to enter the classroom to stop, the review found, because he believed there were other victims from nearby classrooms who should be removed first.

Arredondo has defended his response, saying he did not believe he was in charge. But the Justice Department review concluded that Arredondo was the “de facto on scene commander” and fell short.

Gonzales was one of the first officers on the scene. He correctly identified the classroom where the carnage was unfolding as belonging to Eva Mireles, the wife of an Uvalde school district police officer. But Gonzales, who had undergone active shooter training, told investigators he did not approach the classroom and struggled to relay information over the radio.

Mireles was still alive when officers pulled her from the classroom over an hour after the shooting but ultimately succumbed to her injuries.

Legal experts could not recall any previous case in which Texas law enforcement officers had faced child-endangerment charges, which are typically brought against parents, caregivers or individuals related to victimized children.

But there is a subsection of the law that gives prosecutors room to charge an individual they think knowingly acted or failed to act in a way that led to a child experiencing imminent danger of death or bodily injury. There is ample evidence showing law enforcement’s inaction that day on body-camera videos, radio communications and other records.

“It is rare to have an instance where we have such a well-documented period of time when the police were called and it took over an hour to get to the shooter and victims,” said Ben Varghese, a criminal law attorney based in Fort Worth.

Whether or not Mitchell, the Uvalde district attorney, wins a conviction, the charges “sends a message directly to law enforcement that if you are police officer and know a child is in danger, you cannot wait an hour to engage with a bad actor,” Varghese said.

It is possible the two former officers, Arredondo and Gonzales, were singled out of the hundreds present that day because prosecutors believe “they were the decision-makers telling officers what they could or could not do,” said Houston-based criminal defense attorney Nicole DeBorde.

“It’s not surprising that there is a criminal charge,” she said. “But what poses a difficulty is getting a conviction because you have defendants who have no other connection to the children other than they received a call for assistance in very unpredictable circumstances and are now being prosecuted for the decisions they made that day.”

The charges follow two years of intense pressure from victims’ families, who have demanded accountability from the district attorney’s office. Mitchell endured months of skepticism and criticism from across the state and nation as the months dragged on and the Texas Rangers concluded their investigation.

But DeBorde said the sheer volume of evidence and the size of the crime scene probably required a labored and meticulous review to identify any potential charges. Mitchell convened a grand jury in January that returned an indictment within the three-year statute of limitations for this charge, Varghese said.

The poorly organized response hampered attempts by emergency medical personnel to quickly treat victims. Delays in the medical response were outlined in a 2022 Washington Post investigation with the Texas Tribune and ProPublica.

A Post investigation found that the overall law enforcement delay was driven by the inaction of an array of senior and supervising law enforcement officers, some of whom remain on the job and had direct knowledge a shooting was taking place inside classrooms but failed to swiftly stop the gunman.

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#Uvalde #police #chief #indicted #botched #response #shooting

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